We are going through rounds of discussions with colleagues on information overload, which is going to be one of our research topics for 2005. Those discussions provoke some associative thinking - on conversation overload (I'd define conversation overload as a stress of not being able to participate in conversations one wants to participate).
Another trigger for this thinking is a discussion at AOK mailing list on online communities. It's very timely (re: paper on weblog communities), very interesting and very frustrating at the same time.
The frustration comes from the fact that I'm not able to participate in the discussion... I guess there are several reasons for that. First, there is a usual bad luck - all interesting AOK discussions happen when I'm heavily offline. But there are other reasons as well:
- It's "high traffic" + "deep thought" discussion, so you need to spend a good effort to get into it, to follow different turns and arguments before you can jump in and comment.
- The discussion is organised in a way that's difficult to digest with tools I have at my disposal:
- there is no threading as all posts are moderated, so I can't use Gmail's great thread display to focus on most interesting threads
- there is no RSS feed (at least I couldn't find it), so I can't use news aggregator to treat messages as posts
- it's not public, so I can't bookmark interesting messages to come back to them later
It's may be my personal problem (am I so addicted to blogging that I'm not able to follow mailing lists anymore? :), but it makes me wondering why I'm less stressed in a case of weblog conversations.
This is what I suspect:
Weblog conversations are easier to "jump into" in a middle - as each weblog post have to be meaningful on itself (see also Jill on good hypertext), bloggers make more effort summarising earlier arguments or at least linking to them. In case of a mailing list without threading you have to read all messages to get into the context of conversation).
Weblog conversations are "relaxed": of course, timely response may be important, but you know that nothing awful happens if you react a couple of months later. In a case of a mailing list reacting in a couple of months can easily turn your message into "off topic", as conversation moves to new areas and context is lost.
Parts of weblog conversations are easier to "wave" into your own thinking. It could be a "personal KM researcher" bias, but I could hardly do without connecting discussions I have with others with my own thinking (re: conversations with others vs. conversations with self). I participate in a discussion not only for an altruistic reason of helping others and not only for the fun of "creative abrasion", but also to learn myself and to develop my own ideas further. This could often mean that I also need a way to organise messages in a discussion ("collective" artefacts) in my own way to make them my personal as well (e.g. by selecting and reorganising them in my own way with as bookmarks).
I guess I'd go and post these ideas to AOK mailing list - may be my life will become easier :)